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California County Settles Class-action Lawsuit Over Jail Medical and Mental Health Care

In November 2015, Riverside County, California agreed to settle a federal class-action civil rights suit brought by current and former county jail prisoners who alleged violations of their constitutional right to adequate medical and mental health care. [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, p.32].

The settlement included comprehensive reform of the process for providing medical and mental health treatment as well as services for disabled prisoners. It also included $1.25 million in attorney fees for Donald Specter and Sara Norman with the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, as well as San Francisco attorneys Shawn Hanson and Danielle Ginty. The attorneys will continue to monitor and enforce the consent decree with the defendants paying $150,000 per year in monitoring costs. Further, court-appointed experts will oversee compliance with a remedial plan.

The remedial plan approved by the federal district court includes the following provisions: 1) all prisoners entering the jail will be given a prompt, confidential medical screening by a registered nurse; 2) health care forms will be made available as will locked boxes to deposit completed forms; 3) the completed forms will be collected and triaged daily by health care personnel with urgent concerns being seen that day and routine concerns being seen within 72 hours; 4) medical and mental health staffing levels will be sufficient to ensure compliance with the remedial plan; 5) dayroom time will be allowed from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. except for counts and unusual interruptions; 6) prisoners with chronic care needs will receive specialty care; 7) there will be a prompt and thorough review of all in-custody deaths to determine whether acts or omissions contributed to the death; 8) a full range of structured mental health treatment will be provided, including assessments, individual and group therapy, psychotropic medication, and designated housing with structured activities and specialized programming; 9) the use of safety cells will be minimized and step-down programs employed with the goal of returning potentially self-harming prisoners to the general population; 10) safety cells will be regularly inspected for cleanliness and to ensure prisoners are provided with food, water and medications; and 11) mobility and mentally impaired prisoners will be allowed to use assistive devices and given reasonable accommodations unless there is an immediate risk of harm or security threat.

The court appointed Drs. Bruce Gage and Scott Allen as experts to monitor compliance with the remedial plan. It also ordered the posting of a notice of the settlement to the class members, consisting of all prisoners who were, are or will be incarcerated in Riverside County’s jail system, including those subject to mental health care policies and disabled prisoners who require specialized housing and/or mobility impairment accommodations or assistive devices.

Preliminary approval of the settlement agreement and consent decree was entered by the district court on December 21, 2015; final approval was granted in April 2016. See: Gray v. County of Riverside, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:13-cv-00444-VAP-OP. 

Related legal case

Gray v. County of Riverside


 

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